5 Myths About Home Fires

The roof of a house on fire.

Most people think, “It will never happen to me. I am careful. There is no way I will ever have a fire in my home. Besides, if it did happen, I would be able to smell the smoke and get out in time.” This attitude can be a killer. Maybe it’s time for a little lesson on myths about fire prevention, and a few other helpful hints.

1. The Flames Are the Only Cause of Harm

Red and black smoke.

If you think fires alone cause most of the casualties—you're wrong. It's the smoke that can damage your lungs or kill you. Breathing smoke for as little as three minutes can cause considerable damage to your body—or death. Smoke from a house fire is filled with chemicals from burning furniture, walls, and other belongings. It's dark color can make it impossible to find your way out of your home. You will choke, cough, and easily become confused. Even though it's caused by fire, smoke is the culprit.

2. You'll Have Time to Grab Belongings Before Escaping

You may be thinking that in the event of a fire, you'll have time to grab important items. In fact, you won't! If your home is on fire, you need to get out, and get out fast. Depending on how the fire started, you may have less than 30 seconds to get out safely. Fire can spread quickly, and even scarier than that is something called a flashover, where a fire can burn so hot that everything ignites at once. A flashover can occur in as little as three minutes. Get out fast.

3. The Smell of Smoke Will Signal That There's a Fire

Most people think that smelling smoke will be your signal there's a fire. This is partially true. But what if you're sleeping? Do you think you'll wake up from the smell of smoke or wake up from choking on that smoke? In the event of a fire while you're sleeping, you'll likely wake up from choking on the smoke entering your body. If there is carbon monoxide in the smoke, it will keep you sleeping.

Remember, you only have 30 seconds to safely exit a building from the time the fire starts. If you're sleeping and are lucky enough to wake up from coughing on smoke fumes, it's probably too late. Most deaths from fire occur at night, mainly because smoke will not wake you in time. The best defense is to have fire detectors in every bedroom. The sound will wake you in enough time to escape.

4. You Can Go Back Inside Once You're Out

Firefighters fighting a fire in a house.

"Oh no! The cat is still in the house, but I have time to go back in and save her." Another NO! Never enter a burning building once you've left it. Stay away. The best defense is to teach everyone in the house how to crawl on the floor to the nearest exit and then meet in a preplanned location a safe distance away from the house. Everyone in the family should have a route to take out of the house and, if possible, have two ways to exit. It's also a good idea to have fire drills at least twice a year and actually have everyone crawl out of the house and then run to the meeting place. If a fire were to really occur, there will be panic and disorientation unless there is a practiced scenario.

5. You Can Walk out of a Burning Building

You may think that when escaping a burning building, you can simply walk out. However, it's best if you crawl out. Fire is very hot. The range of heat in a burning building is from 100 degrees on the floor to as much as 600 degrees or more at the ceiling. Walking upright puts your body in the realm of intense heat. Breathing the hot air will burn your lungs (if they haven’t already been damaged from the smoke). The heat can also melt clothes, or anything else you touch, right to your skin.

Ways to Keep Safe

A stovetop with the burners turned on.

Cooking related fires are the number one way fires start. Never leave a stovetop with a burner on. If you have to walk out of the kitchen, turn the stove off. Also, don’t leave flammable items near the stove. Towels, oven mitts, and even wooden spoons could start a fire.

Heating issues are the number two reason fires start in the home. Give your furnace an annual maintenance check to make sure it's working properly. If you need to use a space heater, turn it off before you leave the room and never let it run while you're sleeping.

Careless smoking can also start a fire. Don’t smoke in bed. Don’t smoke on the couch if you're feeling sleepy.

Electrical equipment such as laptop computers can start fires, too. Don’t use your computer in bed. You may fall asleep and it could overheat and set the blankets on fire. Other electrical issues include frayed wires and too many plugs in one receptacle (there is a reason for only two outlets in one box). Don’t use extension cords for long periods of time, and never run one under a rug.

If you like candles, put them on a safe surface and blow them out when you leave the room.

A girl playing with a matchstick.

Watch your kids—they're usually infatuated with fire. Don’t leave lighters or matches within their reach.

During the holidays, make sure your Christmas tree is watered daily, which will prevent it from being a fire hazard. Check your light strings before you put them on the tree to make sure they're not brittle or frayed.

BBQ grills cause many fires. Keep them away from buildings and overhangs. Don’t use them in a garage, especially if there are flammable liquids nearby. Clean them often and check for leaks using a mixture of dish soap and water in a spray bottle.